I started referring to Ursula Le Guin as St. Ursula a few years ago, perhaps as a nod to her gentle humor and subtle surrealism – a surrealism which wasn’t ‘strange’ or ‘abstracting’ but, in her own words:
“Fantasy is not antirational, but pararational; not realistic but surrealistic, a heightening of reality. In Freud’s terminology, it employs primary not secondary process thinking. It employs archetypes which, as Jung warned us, are dangerous things. Fantasy is nearer to poetry, to mysticism, and to insanity than naturalistic fiction is. It is a wilderness, and those who go there should not feel too safe.”
It also felt right to me, to think of Ursula as a guiding, motherly sort of figure. “She was probably the archetypally perfect grandmother for people like us,” writes Gordon White of Rune Soup, which I think captures it well. Not only that, but Ursula set an example of what courageous, insightful, humane, and writing with integrity looks like. Her writing is bursting with humanity. She refused to restrict her characters or settings into western, patriarchal stereotypes. She remained resolutely critical of trends, celebrity, and the corporate/market take-over of art. There have been many times when despairing over my own paltry output, caught between the fangs of commerce and poverty, it has been Ursula’s words that have helped set my course true again.
But more important than all of these things is the fact that her worlds have been a constant in my life. I first discovered Earthsea through a battered 1984 Puffin copy of A Wizard… (stolen from my older brother’s bookshelves). I wanted an Otak familiar. I had a fantasy rpg character named Ged. I cried over The Farthest Shore.
It is a sad day today, and I find that I am saddened by the fact that we won’t have the gift of her wit and words. A selfish sort of sadness, maybe – and a mistaken one – because we already do. Her fictional worlds as well as her essays, articles and speeches live on, and will be remembered.
Let’s make her proud, friends.